REVIEW | From Nambitha Ben-Mazwi to Nthati Mosheshe, Savage Beauty shines with its star-studded cast

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Savage Beauty cast
Savage Beauty cast
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  • Despite a disappointing heroine, Savage Beauty delivers a slick production and powerful performances from the likes of Nambitha Ben-Mazwi and Nthati Mosheshe.
  • Ntathi Moshes is most impressive matriarch and carries the series with her performance.
  • It gets a 3,8 rating for its good entertainment value, great production and amazing queer representation.

The build-up to Netflix's Savage Beauty release, along with its cast headed up by Terry Pheto, has been impressive. Some of the twists in the series, although some predictable, carry the story through some dull patches. 

It's a production with a seemingly substantial budget, especially for a local series – it's top tier. Even the score is sticky and memorable, and there are key standout performances from the main and supporting cast. 

The Bhengus are not your typical African family but with a father like Don Bhengu (played by Dumisani Mbebe) – a patriarchal, traditional, proud and narcissistic head – you'd expect his first son speaking his language to be prominent but it isn't. As the true leader of the family, Grace Bhengu (played by Nthati Moshesh) and her Sesotho are not underscored anywhere else in the series – her children don't speak the language, nor does anyone else in the house. 

I'm not sure if it's the show's synopsis or the trailer but exactly what you think will happen, happens. From Rosemary Zimu's Zinhle Selepe falling in love to breaking and diluting the strength of a family, it leaves me disappointed when vengeance is laced with the wronged or scorned woman becoming more a femme fatale and, thus, a man's bedmate to get to the point of her strategy. It's more Brooke Logan than Ntsiki Lukhele, and the brand of vengeance ultimately turns Zinhle into a desperate villain who relies more on looks to get a way in. We really deserve more, so do South African female performers and the way their characters arc in a story.

Nthati Mosheshe carried the weight of this series. It’s not that Rosemary isn’t talented – she does the job – the weight of the character escaped her. 

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Nambitha Ben-Mazwi – a powerhouse on her own – who, with her co-star Angela Sithole, is a stunning combo to watch. Jesse Suntele immediately stole the show with his character's first entrance. I loved how the script gave his character much-needed nuance, outside the stereotype of a 'rich spoilt brat' with surprising depth, plenty of charm, humour and a particular nobility and loyalty in his principles – despite the disappointments he must deal with.

The real additional magic of the story is found in supporting casts and guest stars. Look out for Slindile Nodangala and her presence on the screen as Gogo Simphiwe, her casting and delivery is appropriate for her role and importance to Don Bhengu. A performance that will leave you wanting more is from Vele Manenje, which comes in way too late in the series.

The story and its premise in Savage Beauty took a turn I wasn't expecting but I'm glad it did. A topic as important as colourism, skin bleaching and the beauty industry's impact on the esteem and confidence of women needs a compelling story that affirms its narrative within a South African setting.

It's a 3,8 from me - good for evening entertainment, you get to see great performances, great production and there is amazing queer representation. It’s a good addition to your watchlist, but you’ll leave feeling you’ve seen all of this before.

Savage Beauty is streaming on Netflix now.

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